Say That Again

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
archives, newspapers, paywall

Dear Newspapers: Locking Up Archives Shrinks Your Business

from the let's-try-this-again dept

Plenty of folks have pointed this out for years, but newspapers that try to lock up their back archives and charge for viewing those articles are very likely hurting their bottom line more than helping it. That's because those archives are a treasure trove of info that people would be interested in finding via a search engine -- but they almost never want to pay for it. For many years, the NY Times tried locking up its archives and charging to read stories, but eventually did the math and realized it made a lot more sense to put all its archives online for free, and make money off the ads. Since removing the barriers, the NY Times has seen its traffic spike significantly, and its archives have become a significant portion of the overall site's traffic.

However, some newspapers still can't see the forest for the trees, and think that the answer is to charge high prices to view old articles. That most likely just gets people to look elsewhere, and diminishes ad revenue as well. Parker Mason has written an open letter to the Toronto Globe & Mail decrying its continued practice of charging $5 for access to a single archived article (for just 30 days of access). It's a good read, and I'm guessing that folks like Mathew Ingram, who works at The Globe, have been pushing for changes to the paper's policy, but until then, the company seems to be hurting itself. Mason's letter is well worth reading, but here's a snippet:
But then you go and do something like trying to charge me $4.95 for a newspaper article that I've already paid for and read, and this hurts me (telling me that this content will only be available for 30 days only adds insult to injury).

Your greatest asset is the thousands and thousands of pages of information and news stories that you have in your archives. People want to view this content, and just as they have endured advertising in your print publications, they'll endure the same kind of advertising on your website.

I understand your thinking when it comes to locking up this content behind a pay wall: it is valuable information, so people will pay to see it.

The problem is, you are only half-right. It is valuable information, but only when it is easy to access. In the age of Google, people will quickly move on and find the information elsewhere, somewhere where it easier to get at.

Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    Anne, 13 Oct 2008 @ 9:34pm

    I have paid for archived newspaper articles in the past, and I'm not sure what this guy is complaining about in his letter. If the content was so important to him, why didn't he save it the first time he read it?

    It sounds like whining to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2008 @ 9:47pm

    Newspapers don't make money by selling newspapers. They don't even make money by selling information. They make money by selling eyeballs to advertisers.

    That is not by any means an original observation, but it is something that most newspapers do not understand.

    A few years ago I was in a meeting that showed me that people who run newspapers do not always understand their own business. The meeting was with the owner/publisher of the newspaper in a medium sized city. They had done a survey about comic strips, and they were going to get rid of the strips that were not very poplular. He mentioned a couple of strips that I read regularly. I told him that if it weren't for those comics I probably wouldn't bother to look through anything but the first section of the newspaper. I said that the paper's objective should be to have a couple of comics that would appeal to every person in the city. He said something to the effect of "Gee, that makes a lot of sense."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jesse, 13 Oct 2008 @ 9:48pm

    I don't see it as whining. I see it as a favor to the newspapers holding out. If you want to pay 5 dollars for something you have previously paid for, then go ahead. If the newspapers want to charge money for information that is likely available elsewhere free, they can do that. But then they shouldn't turn around and complain that google is cutting into their profits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    bob, 14 Oct 2008 @ 1:14am

    A Reply to Anne

    A Reply to Anne

    Nexus Lexus is often wire bureau news feeds, local news content can be and often is unique.
    Monetizing that local news content with ads was the thrust of the letter and article. It seems you missed the point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Oct 2008 @ 1:18am


    In the UK, the number 1 paper in many areas is The Sun, and according to Wikipedia it's the highest-circulation English language newpaper in the world.

    However, it's a tabloid newspaper often ridiculed for its lack of journalistic standards. Why is it so popular? Numerous reasons, but its popularity first grew in the 70s by featuring topless women on page 3. It grew again in the 80s when it introduced a bingo game.

    You're right - newspaper popularity often doesn't have anyhting to do with what the journalists do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Blatant Coward, 14 Oct 2008 @ 1:44am

    A Reply to Anne

    Because Scooby and the Gang cannot keep every copy of every article in the van without having it become old man Wrenchmuller's place after a few years with the 3 billion papers being used as furniture.

    Archiving and 3D just don't mix!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Oct 2008 @ 1:48am


    There's two things here. Firstly, locking up the content makes it more difficult to find in the first place. If it's free, I can find the archived story through a Google search and provide eyeballs for the ads. If it doesn't come up in Google, I might not know that the archived story even exists in the first place and thus (of course) not pay for it. Mason's also right in that if the Globe story doesn't come up in a Google search, maybe another organisation's story will come up and I'll visit their site instead.

    It's not whining, it's pointing out that the paywall can potentially reduce the revenue rather than increase it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    some old guy, 14 Oct 2008 @ 4:31am

    NY Times is still doing it wrong

    Every link I ever click for NYT takes me to a login page. So I can't read any of their articles.

    Their site refuses to feed you a page unless you accept it's cookie. Since I don't accept its cookie (or any other websites cookies, unless it provides a valued service to me, like this site, that stores my name/url for me).

    NY Times is one of the last sites out there that refuses to give you content without a cookie. Well, NY Times, it's ok. I can read your news on another paper's website.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    nasch, 14 Oct 2008 @ 8:13am


    You're suggesting the solution to this problem is that everybody in the world archive every news article they ever read in case they want to come back to it later? And you're smoking what?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Editor, 15 Oct 2008 @ 7:52am


    Our newspaper Web site is behind a paywall. We make 6 digits in revenue because of this, though I know we aren't getting the traffic we could be.

    Please, someone, anyone, give me some ideas of how we can really replace those 6 digits with a free model. And don't say "more eyeballs, more ads," because we have a surplus of ad inventory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    djb, 15 Oct 2008 @ 1:41pm

    Paid by advertising?

    With CPM rates down between $1 and $10, and newspapers awash in surplus inventory, I'd like someone to explain where all this magic revenue from free content is actually going to come from.

    It sure isn't going to come from banner ad impressions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Isaac K (profile), 16 Oct 2008 @ 8:25am

    But if EVERYONE does it...

    If ALL newspapers charged for archives, people wouldn't be able to get the information unless they paid ANYHOW!
    So why stop?
    This is the theory behind DRM and all the other annoyoing trends we've been seeing -
    Movie and Music (and even some internet) companies are trying to get EVERYONE to block content, and if EVERYONE does it, they can FORCE the traffic to funnel through their pockets.
    There is a word for this:
    The music and movie industries are essentially attempting to create a legal cartel in order to control the supply of content and block competition.

    Anyone ever think we could bring the MPAA and RIAA to court on these grounds? control of supply, rigging of prices, all of it in ADDITION to anti-competitive moves.

    Ooh, I'm getting all tingly...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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